Reaching Out

Detail of The Visitation by Albertinelli (1503 AD)As Christians we to try to live our lives as Jesus showed us by His example and by His teaching.  This is achieved through love, as God IS love.  Jesus said repeatedly that he wants us to love our neighbours as ourselves and to love God with all our hearts and souls, to love even our enemies.  Advent is about opening our hearts to God’s loving action of bringing His son into our world and this weekend’s gospel reading gives us a beautiful story of love – the story of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth.  Mary was given two big surprises by the angel Gabriel – firstly that she would as a virgin bear a child, Jesus, and secondly that her older cousin (of past child-bearing age) was also with child!  So Mary sets off to reach out in love and concern for Elizabeth and stays with her for a while to be of help to her.  It’s a long difficult journey for her through the desert but was perhaps a way of preparing for the coming of Jesus by showing love for her neighbour.  There is a message in this for us and how we might also prepare during Advent.

Upon arrival, Mary would have given the traditional Jewish greeting, “Shalom!” which means “Peace be with you” (we remember that when Jesus was seen after the resurrection, he also said three times “Peace be with you”).  At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth was filled with joy and felt her baby (John the Baptist) leap in her womb.  Mary and Jesus always spoke words of love and peace to one another and everyone.

We go on to read that these two holy pregnant women then start talking about what God was doing for them in their lives, as they supported and consoled one another.  Again, an important lesson for us!  Mary and Elizabeth call us to tell one another about God’s presence in our lives because by doing so our relationships, friendships and love will deepen and so we build community with each other.  Like Elizabeth, we too can be consoled with joy!

So, by reaching out with love to our neighbour in need, by speaking words of peace to one another and by humbly sharing with each other how the Lord is working in our lives we will ourselves feel joy and be greatly blessed.  Contrast this with David Baddiel’s BBC2 investigation last week into Social Media.  He set out to discover why there is so much anger and hatred on social media.  It was a tense journey in which he met victims of online abuse and cyber-harassment and uncovered the almost deadly consequences of online hatred.  He investigated not just the many advantages of social media but more importantly what it is really doing to us:  the habitual effect on our brains and the subsequent feelings engendered in us;   the effects on self-identity, especially for the young growing up in a world where social media is the norm;   the changed ways in which we communicate with one another;   the dramatically sudden change to human society;   the normalising of aggression.

We may dismiss social media as not being real life.  But the programme highlighted that what happens on social media isn’t staying on social media.   This is evident in increased teenage suicides and self-harming due to online bullying; online sexual harassment, racism, misogyny and other forms of abuse towards celebrities and ordinary people; loss of livelihood and peace of mind due to cancel (call-out) culture, to name but a few consequences.  We hope and pray that the Online Safety Bill being discussed in Parliament will start to bring about controls.  Our prayer must be that sensible protective legislation is introduced and that, despite what the world says and does, we will for our part continue as Mary did to reach out in love towards those in need, that we will speak only words of peace and that we will bring about joy in one another this Christmastime and onwards!

Image: Detail of The Visitation by Albertinelli (1503AD)